Compassionate and insightful.


McNally (Psychology/Harvard Univ.; Remembering Trauma, 2003, etc.) takes a hard look at statistics that seem to indicate that “[m]adness…is rampant in America.”

At issue are the diagnostic guidelines used to determine what constitutes a “mental disorder.” These are delineated by the American Psychiatric Association and codified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (The DSM-V is scheduled to appear in 2013.) As someone who has been directly involved in updating the manual, the author struggles with a thorny question: “Does our system of diagnosing mental disorders fail to distinguish normal human suffering from genuine mental illness? Or are we really getting sicker?” Since the 1980 publication of DSM-III, critics have accused the profession of being self-interested, “expanding the boundaries of mental disorders” to “relatively trivial problems” such as “caffeine-induced sleep disorder” or blurring the difference between shyness and “social phobia.” Yet people do seek psychological help in alleviating suffering, and eligibility for health-insurance coverage is dependent on the diagnosis they receive. While pharmaceutical companies may be charged with encouraging broad definitions of mental illness, the opposite is true of insurers. McNally reviews advances in the field since the publication of DSM-III, examining research in evolutionary psychology, the role of social norms in defining maladaptive behavior and the interplay of genetics and environment. He also points to how nonpsychiatric medicine has shifted the “boundary between health and sickness” by treating people with preventative medication for high blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. Whether or not—and how—to treat psychological difficulties will remain a problem that individuals, medical professionals and society at large will grapple with, but McNally is optimistic.

Compassionate and insightful.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-674-04649-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.


A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...


Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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